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Mekong Fishermen Want Laos Dam Better Studied

Cambodian fishermen move their fishing net from the Mekong River as they catch fish on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.
Cambodian fishermen move their fishing net from the Mekong River as they catch fish on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.

As Cambodia prepares for a regional meeting over a contentious Lao dam on the Mekong River, fishing communities in Stung Treng province have appealed to Laos to cancel the project.

The Don Sahong dam would be built on the main channel of the Mekong, two kilometers above the Cambodian border. Critics warn it could endanger livelihoods downriver.

The Mekong River Commission will hold a regional public consultation on Dec. 12 to discuss the project and hear objections.

Kong Chanthy, a fisherman in Stung Treng’s Thala Barivat district, bordering Laos, said the Laos government should conduct a cross-border feasibility study before going ahead with the plan.

“It’s adjacent to the border,” he said. “I want to request to Cambodian government to contemplate and to talk with the Laos government to find consent solutions. I would like to send this message to the Laos government, stakeholders and decision makers [and ask] if they have conducted feasibility study.”

The 32-metter Don Sahong dam would generate 260 megawatts, in an attempt by Laos to boost its economy.

​Built by Malaysian company Mega First Corporation, the dam is on the main Siphandon area of the Mekong River, sometimes called Four Thousand Islands.

Environmental experts say that if built, the dam will imperil the migration of various types of fish, including the threatened Irrawaddy dolphin, which lives downstream in Cambodia.

Communities in upstream Thailand and downstream Cambodia both face a risk of fish shortages in the dam is completed, critics say.

Sek Sophal, who is the chief of a fishing community in Thala Barivath, not far downstream from the proposed site, said 200 families there would be affected by the dam.

“I request to NGOs and the government to not support the Don Sahong project and to stop it immediately,” he told VOA Khmer.

Cambodia has held sub-national and national level meetings at least three times to garner people’s concerns over the project.

Duong Pov, deputy governor of Stung Treng, said that people living along the Mekong River bordering Laos do not want the project to happen.

“In short, people do not want the dam to exist,” he said. “If built, it will affect us. Once it exists, the solutions would be complicated. We do not know what to do to prevent it from happening.”

Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian communities have protested the dam project, though Laos has had Mega First conduct a feasibility study. But civic groups and environmentalists say that study has not complied with international standards, particularly the cross-border impacts of the dam.

Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said Laos is likely to go ahead with the plan, regardless of objections.

“I think that Laos is already prepared, since they have planned the project not this year but for a few years already,” he said. “They conducted studies in the past.”

Hans Guttman, CEO of the MRC Secretariat, said in statement that the Dec. 12 consultation will be a chance for Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to express concerns over the project.

“The process is also an opportunity for Lao PDR, who proposes the project for development, to better understand the concerns and to consider measures to address them,” he said.

Lao officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Luy Rasmey, executive director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association, which is based in Stung Treng, said the regional consultation should include the communities’ concerns.